What It’s Really Like to Make Conservation Photos in the Maine Woods.

Rock Pond sunrise, Maine Woods
A canoe on the shores of Rock Pond at sunrise in Maine’s Northern Forest.

Most of my conservation photo work this summer has been in Maine’s northern forest. It’s a vast area, more than 10 million acres, with scattered villages and not much in the way of development. Very little of the region is public land (Baxter State Park being the biggest exception), though more than a million acres have been protected from development over the last 25 years.

This year I have found myself working on projects for The Conservation Fund, The Forest Society of Maine, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and The Nature Conservancy. All the projects have one thing in common – they were located on land that has been managed for wood and paper products for more than 150 years (like much of Maine’s northern forest region.)

A cloud hugs the summit of Mount Chase in this aerial view of Pickett Mountain Pond in Maine’s Northern Forest.

While these lands have been privately owned, they have traditionally been open to the public for hunting, fishing and other forms of recreation. The land conservation projects I worked on this year will continue to be open to the public for various forms of recreation. Some will be managed strictly as preserves, others will allow some wood harvesting as well.

An aerial view of the west side of Mahoosuc Arm looking towards Mount Washington and the White Mountains. Grafton Township, Maine.

I usually try to create a collection of images of these places that shows them at their best, often with people on the land – usually recreating in some way, but also working in the forest. This year I’ve done very little in the way of people photography on my projects, partly because of the pandemic, and it has made me realize how much I usually rely on people to add some interest to my photos. When the landscape (or the weather) is kind of generic, I can depend on the human element to add some dynamic subject matter to the scene.

Bridges in the Maine woods can be a little sketchy. This one was supported by 6 steel I-beams, so I was confident it could handle the Jeep.
An old skidder road on Red Ridge in Grafton Township, Maine.

But this year, I’ve been spending a lot of my time driving logging roads or hiking old skidder roads looking for a view that can give me a chance at creating a compelling landscape photo. These roads often hold promise – they go uphill towards logged areas that could give a view, but 19 times out of 20, they disappoint. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent this summer driving/walking up roads like the above only to end at a scene like the one below that does me no good. I’m definitely working harder for fewer photos this year.

The view from an old log yard on Red Ridge in Grafton Township, Maine.
Our temporary camp in the Maine woods.
An Aerial view of Cold Stream in Maine’s Northern Forest. West Forks.

A drone is very helpful on these shoots so I can get shots like the above photo of Cold Stream near The Forks, but in the Maine woods the drone view is just as likely to look like the below photos.

An aerial view of a forest harvest on the northwest side of Old Speck Mountain in the Mahoosuc Range. Grafton Township, Maine.
Clearcuts and spruce plantations in the industrial forest in Square Lake Township, Maine.

The above photos of forestry practices are important to make – they help explain how the land is currently being used, but the landscape photographer in me always gets more excited by a scene that looks wilder and more inviting.

View of the Kilkenny Range in the White Mountain National Forest as seen from the northwest side of Mahoosuc Arm in Grafton Township, Maine.
Sunset view in Maine’s Boundary Mountains.

I can’t tell you how many times this summer I got super excited just because I found a spot that actually had an unobstructed sunrise or sunset view and looked relatively untouched by development or logging. I went 2 or 3 days between finding these spots on some of my jobs. It has certainly been a challenge, but I appreciate the vision my clients have for the potential future of these places. New England’s forests are resilient – as long as you don’t pave over them or build on them, they usually grow back.

An aerial view of the Swift Cambridge River in Grafton Township, Maine.

Cheers!

-Jerry

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